Monday, March 26, 2012

Absolution at Altitude: Tour de Bloc Season 9 Eastern Regionals

Whew! It’s been an incredible Tour de Bloc season so far.

Mark Button Tour de Bloc Eastern Regionals Finals Problem 2
Mark Button executing a tricky maneuver during the TdB Eastern Regionals Finals

This weekend, the Eastern Regionals for Season 9 of the TdB bouldering series took place at Altitude Gym in Gatineau, Quebec. I love the subtle, sinuous curves of the main bouldering island at Altitude. It’s a beautiful gym.

Perhaps it was my imagination, but the atmosphere for Eastern Regionals seemed more serious, more competitive. Not that everyone didn’t show up to have fun, as always -- but it also felt like people were there to show what they could do...

(video: Florent Balsez sends problem 3, men’s finals -- LINK)

Finals -- Tour de Bloc Eastern Regionals
As you might expect for Regionals, a deep field of competitors was present. In Mens, less than 50 points separated 8th place (the cutoff in Qualifiers) from 12th -- nobody was holding back. Eric Sethna, Sébastien Lazure, and Florent Balsez were all winners of TdB local comps this season.

Kerry Briggs flashing problem 2, Tour de Bloc Eastern Regionals
Eventual winner Kerry Briggs
en route to flashing problem 2 
In Womens there was a similar story, with a final list of six including Kerry Briggs, Iyma Lamarche, Melissa Lacasse, and Thomasina Pidgeon (who placed 2nd in three straight events).

It made for a dramatic Finals. You could cheer for any of the climbers and have decent odds of seeing a problem completion.

Iyma Lamarche on 2, Eveline Lapierre on 3, Thomasina Pidgeon on 4

It was extremely close in Womens. Ms. Briggs, Lamarche and Lacasse completed all four problems, while Ms. Pidgeon (“Go Pidgeon!”) completed three. In the end it boiled down to number of attempts -- Kerry flashed everything, so she won out over Iyma, who in turn edged out Ms. Lacasse.

In Mens we also saw a tight, tense, and hard-fought battle.

Remi Chrusten on problem 2, Tour de Bloc Eastern Regionals
Remi Chrusten grappling with problem 2,
while Daniel Gingras gives his all on problem 3

I thought that going in, Eric Sethna was looking really strong (I had witnessed him doing problem 70 during the Qualifiers) but Sébastien Lazure is an incredible competitor, so I was definitely looking forward to seeing who would come out on top.

Except of course, at any given TdB individual performances are what counts, and both climbers were beaten by an exuberant Remi Chrusten. Chrusten flashed all four problems. Sethna had a few more attempts for his four completions, while Lazure fended off Florent Balsez for third place.

(video: Eric Sethna on problem 4, men’s finals -- LINK)

Congratulations to Kerry, Remi, and all of the finalists!

Finals photographs
Check out the whole set:
• 2012 Altitude TdB Eastern Regionals Finals photos

I’ve posted most of the shots I took. As a result you’ll find some cool photo sequences where you can see the progression of moves made by the climbers...

[My favourite sequence is this one, which has Melissa Lacasse working through problem 2 and then Kerry Briggs doing problem 3. When viewing, press the right arrow key (onscreen or on your keyboard) to advance to the next photo.]

Finding humility and inspiration
Competing in the Open category this season has been a fascinating personal experience. I’ve learned a lot about humility, since most of the athletes in Open are at an entirely different level than me.

I’ve been inspired by the people I’ve met along the way, particularly by their spirit and friendliness. I have a competitive streak and it always delights me to hear the genuine calls of support and encouragement when climbers are working a problem.

I’m grateful to be a participant in this welcoming community.

Getting there is half the fun
I had not planned on going to Eastern Regionals. But the funny thing about climbing is that you wind up meeting people and making new friends so easily -- sometimes events just transpire.

I randomly bumped into two climbers at my home gym, who mentioned they were attending the event -- and I jokingly asked if they had room in their car for another.

To my surprise they said yes, so off I went! Thanks Neil and Elysia for letting me tag along on your mini-road-trip...

Eastern Regionals Qualifiers -- solid, solid work 
I was sick after my exertions from the comp at True North two weeks ago, so I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get back in rhythm in time.

My worries proved unfounded, as I had an excellent session -- probably my best this season. My shoulders and back are really sore today!

55 (black), 54 (pink, right): I had to figure out ‘short-person beta’ for the starting sequence for 55, as the right handhold around the corner was too far for me to make from merely pushing off the wall. I got my right foot on the left starting hold, before making the critical move to the right. 

I wound up with a solid, compact scoresheet that was very satisfying. There were not a lot of problems where I was left disappointed thinking, “Oh, I should have been able to do that.” So I felt like I had climbed to my ability.

53 (green) was thin, delicate, and balancy. The sequence was thoughtful and had several stable spots punctuated by difficult moves, which I enjoyed. 

51 (white) was tricky for me and took multiple attempts. A crossover move near the top puzzled many climbers attempting it.

52 (red) had a big dyno, which is a skill I need to work on. I never landed the dyno, alas. A hold was added (!) for Open. I saw lots of great attempts on 57 (orange) and 69 (purple)

I thought the two problems inside the little vestibule on the side wall, 45 and 29 were creative but overlooked. They were too low to wind up on my final scoresheet, but I enjoyed twisting around like a monkey on both of them.

45 (green), 29 (orange) -- playful and whimsical setting!

The two problems I would have liked to get were 56 and 50. 56 was too powerful for me (maybe if I was about 5 or 10 percent stronger), while I came super close to getting the sequence for 50, but not in time.

56 (yellow) -- a tad too burly. I was tempted to session it, but gave up after a couple of attempts to save my strength
50 (red) had a delightful crux just before the finish...
I nearly got it once but then ran out of time.

Here’s my complete set of TdB Eastern Regionals Qualifiers photos -- I think I got everything:
• 2012 Altitude TdB Eastern Regionals Qualifier photos 

I tend to experience major variations in morale during a comp. I still don’t know how to calm down and focus. That’s something I want to work on in the future.

Getting completions ‘on page 2’!
Early, I felt flushed and pumped out -- while contorting on 45 my back spasmed worryingly. I got spit off the beginning of 54, but then another climber (thanks Timothy!) settled me mentally and together we started sending ‘stuff on the second page’.

From there the session was a steady stream of evenness, and I relaxed.

It’s getting those first couple of high problems -- once I get those, I feel like ‘ok, I actually do know how to climb’. My pacing was good and the last half hour I spent messing around having fun (instead of the dreaded ‘need to find a sixth score’ scenario).

My performance
I was quite content with how I did at Altitude. I performed significantly better than at Coyote, and at a higher level on average than at True North (where my score was bumped up by a last-minute high send). How did I do goal-wise?

• ‘Qualify’ for Women’s Open Finals: YES (would have been #5)
• Finish out of the bottom third in Men’s Open: YES (35/53)

Altitude -- a great way for me to cap off a whirlwind Tour de Bloc season

Overall -- a deeply satisfying personal result. I always want to improve of course, but on Saturday it was a performance that was close to the limit of where I am as a climber right now.

Mental flubs and errors in judgment
Even experienced competitors are not immune to occasional mental flubs. If you’ve ever cursed yourself for screwing up your comp strategy, take heart from the following...

Both Ayo Sopeju and Cloé Legault have been Tour de Bloc finalists in the past. They know what they’re doing.

Yet Ayo told me afterwards that he had encountered time management issues -- he simply didn’t pace the session right. And Cloé mistakenly thought that the time allotment for qualifiers was 3.5 hours instead of 3. As a result, she had to turn in a scoresheet that only had five completions on it (scores are based on your top six finishes)!

“I’m so mad at myself,” she said. “I was climbing strong, too!”

Iyma don’t let go -- you haven’t finished yet!!

And in the Finals, on problem #2, Iyma Lamarche got to the bonus hold, where she incorrectly believed she was finished -- so she dropped off.

Assuming she would have finished the rest of the problem -- which she did with ease on her next attempt -- this came close to making a difference on the final results. There was a scenario where if Kerry Briggs had not flashed everything and there was a tie, the tiebreaker would have gone back to Qualifiers -- in which case Iyma would have come in first...

So -- if you ever make a dubious error at a comp and feel like an idiot for doing so, relax. Even the best climbers let these things happen now and then.

[Ayo, Cloé, Iyma -- hope you don’t mind my pointing this out -- you’re all inspirations to us normal climbers...]

Thanks go to Neil and Elysia. Neil for providing the transport, Elysia for getting her sister to host us over the weekend, and the both of them for graciously letting me tag along on their trip. I appreciate the hospitality!

Thanks to Timothy H. who, in addition to having a stellar outing himself, settled me down after I was a bit rattled in the early going. We wound up sending 55! Thanks for the stoke!

Cloé: “Are you taking a picture of me?!”
Me: “No, I’m taking a picture of Iyma!”
Thanks: to Altitude Gym for hosting the Eastern Regionals, to the TdB organizers for holding yet another fantastic event (great spacing for problems, didn’t feel crowded, no lineups), to the setting crew who looked super-calm under the time pressure of setting up during Finals, to the cheerful volunteers -- and of course to all the other competitors.

Great comp, everyone!

Thank you, gentle reader, once again for following along on my adventures. I’ve got one more post lined up with some self-absorbed analysis, so I hope you’ll stay tuned...

See you at the gym or outside!

Also of interest...
My series of Tour de Bloc comp recaps, from an intermediate climber’s perspective
• Photos from Marie-Claude Charron: here

As usual, I will link here to other photos/blogs, as they get posted! [feel free to send me links! I saw tons of cameras so there should be some great footage...]

Miscellaneous commentary that didn’t fit in anywhere
I did have one peevish complaint. I was a little irritated when due to my late registration for the comp the organizers wanted to charge me $10 for a t-shirt. That felt lame. I understand they have to have a registration cutoff date to gauge the right number of shirts to print -- but if you print extra shirts and a competitor shows up and pays admission... C’mon. There were people who registered and didn’t show up -- were they penalized? No. Meanwhile their shirt got printed. I saw plenty of extras at the desk after the Finals.

Footnote 2: No, there isn’t any meaning to the ‘absolution’ of the title; I simply felt like it went with the church theme at Altitude. Or perhaps I’m just not telling. :) 

Please like, share, link, or forward this recap to anyone who might enjoy it. Thanks.